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M A S S A C H U S E T T S I N S T I T U T E O F T E C H N O L O G Y M A S S A C H U S E T T S I N S T I T U T E O F T E C H N O L O G Y
March 2006
06-03M I T C E N T E R F O R I N T E R N A T I O N A L S T U D I E S
of the Conventional Wisdom
The Audit of Japan-China Relations: Four Fallacies
Conventional Masquerading as Common SenseWisdom
In this series of essays, MIT’s Center Kazuo Ogoura
for International Studies tours the Japan Foundation
horizon of conventional wisdoms that
animate U.S. foreign policy, and put
them to the test of data and history. By
subjecting particularly well-accepted
ideas to close scrutiny, our aim is
o gain insight into the future of the Sino-Japanese relationship, to re-engage policy and opinion leaders
on topics that are too easily passing Twe need to clear up the misconceptions, misunderstandings, such scrutiny. We hope that this will
lead to further debate and inquiries, and errors that beset the two countries’ relations and take an intellec-
with a result we can all agree on:
tual scalpel to their source. Some of the errors are related to the way better foreign policies that lead to a
more peaceful and prosperous world. people think about or perceive themselves, while others stem from Authors in this series are available
to the press and policy community. the thinking or attitudes of the other party; still others are linked
Contact: Amy Tarr (atarr@mit.edu,
to the history of Japan-China relations. Here, in four questions and 617.253.1965).
answers, are errors currently regarded as virtually self-evident truths.

Question One
True or false?: “Now that sixty years have passed since the end of the war between
Japan and China, we should not be obsessed with the past and should stop arguing
about ‘war crimes,’ ‘war of invasion,’ and other issues of ‘history.’”
Answer: While the military conflict between Japan and China may have ended long
ago, in political terms the war is not yet over. For China, the war was not only a war
against Japan, it was also a struggle for national unification. Yet the Kuomintang,
which fought with the Communist Party for hegemony over a united China, is still Center for International Studies
Massachusetts Institute of Technology alive and well in Taiwan. For both the Communist Party and the Kuomintang, the
Building E38-200 “revolution”—whether Sun Yat-sen’s or Mao Zedong’s—has not yet been fully realized. 292 Main Street
Although the “outsider,” Japan, has been removed from the scene, the fight for Chinese Cambridge, MA 02139
unification is not over.
T: 617.253.8093
F: 617.253.9330
cis-info@mit.edu In Japan, meanwhile, people still use the term shusen (the end of the war) instead of
haisen (defeat in the war). But to refer to “the end of the war” implies that neither side
web.mit.edu/cis/
web.mit.edu/cis/acw.html continued on page 2
1won or lost, that the fighting is over but the outcome was inconclusive. The other side of
this coin is the unmistakable continuity between prewar and postwar Japan (as shown by
the history of “war criminals” taking up important political posts). This continuity means
that past issues cannot be settled as matters of the past and so inevitably exert an influence
over matters of the present.
For both Japan and China, therefore, the war is not yet entirely a matter of the past. What
is the significance of their failure to put the war behind them once and for all?
One of the consequences is that Japan, the losing country, must continue to examine the
meaning of its defeat and must from time to time reaffirm its remorse for having taken a
path that led to tragedy. Undertaking such reflection and self-examination once or twice is
not enough. Indeed, the very existence of the feeling that “Surely we’ve done enough” indi-
cates that Japan has not reflected sufficiently. Inasmuch as the past is still alive in the pres-
ent, reflection on that past will always be required.
On the other hand, victors have a duty as victors—that is, to be satisfied with the fact that
they have won and to be magnanimous to the loser. The problem is that China tends to
forget that it, China, won the war, clinging only to the fact that it was “invaded by Japan.”
People like Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai, who actually fought against Japan—against the
militarists—were able to reflect on the meaning of their victory because they understood
that both the Chinese and the Japanese were victims of the war. Their enemy was the
Japanese militarists, and their victory was over the Japanese militarists.
Now that the so-called revolutionary generation is all but gone, however, one gets the
impression that the current Chinese leadership has only a dim awareness of this fundamental
point. China’s leaders need again to distinguish clearly between the people of Japan and
Japanese militarists. In point of fact, there were Japanese socialists who were imprisoned for
opposing the war, and there were Japanese who devoted their lives to bringing about the
new China. The stories of these Japanese were recently told in a book, Youyi zhuzao chunqiu
(Friendship Molds History), edited by Ding Min and others. China should acknowledge
squarely that the efforts and money of Japanese people have played a role in building today’s
modern China. It goes without saying that Japanese people must refrain from irrespon-
sible remarks or actions that give the Chinese an excuse to blur the distinction between the
Japanese people and Japanese militarists.
Question Two
True or false?: “As Chinese society gradually becomes more open, its political leaders will
have to respond to public opinion, including popular sentiment regarding the scars left by Kazuo Ogoura is the President of
the war with Japan. Leaders have no choice but to give diplomatic and political expression the Japan Foundation and served
such issues. In Japan, as national sentiment toward Chinese people becomes increasingly as Japan’s ambassador to Vietnam,
marked by suspicion and dislike, Japan’s China policies need to be reconsidered, including South Korea, and France during
the question of accepting Chinese students at Japanese educational institutions.”the course of his career as a diplo-
mat. His published works include
Answer: It is not true that Chinese society is now more open. Falun Gong is but one of the Gurobarizumu e no hangyaku
movements and publications that have been suppressed on political grounds. The Chinese (Backlash Against Globalization).
people’s feelings have become apparent not because Chinese society has become more
open, but because the lack of openness makes it is easier for people to vent their frustration
citation at Japan or some other external target than to criticize their own government. So, when
Kazuo Ogoura. “Japan-China China’s leaders claim to be taking popular feelings toward Japan into consideration, they are
Relations: Four Fallacies effectively admitting that Chinese society is not yet open enough. Public opinion surveys by
Masquerading as Common Sense,” both Japanese and Chinese journalists have produced little evidence that attitudes toward
MIT Center for International Japan have deteriorated in recent years. The scattered signs of an anti-Japanese swell may be
Studies Audit of the Conventional less a reflection of popular feeling than a matter of the masses flattering their political mas-
Wisdom, 06-03 (March 2006). ters or of intellectuals wanting to make a name for themselves.
2
of the Conventional Wisdom
AuditMeanwhile, negative Japanese feelings toward China have to Question Four
some extent been whipped up by some of Japan’s political lead- True or false?: “The basis for the formation of an East Asian
ers. Making China out to be a villain and taking a hard-line Community is taking shape, founded on the natural common
position is an easy way to win public approval. This leads to ground shared by Japan, China, and South Korea, such as their
a vicious cycle in which the Japanese people, carried along by economic interdependence, geographic proximity, and common
the rhetoric, grow ever more hostile to the Chinese. One might cultural traditions. While it may be politically and strategically
even say that the growing anti-Chinese feeling in Japan is not so difficult for the three countries to form a community in the
much China’s fault as Japan’s. short term, particularly given the existence of the Japan-U.S.
alliance, they should seek to develop joint actions and common
perceptions in the economic and cultural spheres.”
Question Three
True or false?: “Japan-China relations today can be characterized
Answer: The increasingly close economic relations among as ‘politically cold, economically hot,’ where active economic Japan, China, and South Korea are less a result of specific gov-exchange contrasts with a chilly political climate.”
ernment policies, ideas, or efforts than a natural consequence of
China’s low labor costs and the three nations’ mutually comple-Answer: In the narrow sense that political issues frequently sur-
mentary industrial structures. They have little to do with the face between Japan and China, raising people’s hackles in both
political desire to create an East Asia Community. countries, it is true that political relations are cool. But from a
wider, strategic perspective, the developments in political rela-
As far as cultural homogeneity is concerned, the key consider-tions have not been all bad. Japan and China have cooperated
ation in today’s international community is whether countries in the Six-Party Talks on North Korea, for example, and no
can share the values of democracy, human rights, and market rift is visible in the efforts of the two countries regarding the
principles. In East Asia, at least, so-called commonality of formation of an East Asian Community. One gets the impres-
national cultures and traditions is not a major determinant of sion that the term “politically cold” represents the views of some
Chinese leaders who are apprehensive about Japan’s growing international relations. It is therefore not appropriate to base
political clout. Some say that Japan is attempting to strengthen the concept of a community among Japan, China, and South
the Japan-U.S. alliance while China is seeking to engineer Korea on cultural ideas.
global multipolarity as a means of resisting U.S. hegemony. But
U.S.-China relations are stable strategically, and so long as no There are four reasons why such a community would have con-
unforeseen situation arises in connection with the Taiwan issue, siderable strategic meaning for Japan, each of which is more
the idea that strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance will lead to important than the community’s potential economic benefits or
a cooling of Japan-China or U.S.-China relations seems a little cultural significance. The first reason is that such a community
simplistic. would serve to maintain China’s unity. If the three countries are
to cultivate common political and economic perceptions and
The term “economically hot” also presents problems. Although promote joint action, it is essential for China to avoid an inter-
the Chinese economy is said to be doing well, some 30 to 40 nal split. A trilateral framework would help, albeit indirectly, to
percent of the goods produced by Japanese companies in China maintain China’s unity. Second, the bonding together of Japan, are destined for overseas markets. Thus the country’s signifi- China, and South Korea could help draw North Korea into the cance remains more that of a provider of cheap labor rather
international community and contribute toward Korean reunifi-than a market. Considering the various rules, regulations, and
cation. Third, depending on future developments, Russia or the market-entry restrictions to which China’s financial and capital
United States might one day attempt to drive a wedge between markets are subject (including restrictions on money transfers),
Japan and China and fish for strategic gain in the resulting one must ask to what extent the country’s apparently huge trade
troubled waters. A Japan–China–South Korea community and investment figures are simply the result of temporary action
would help to block such a scheme. Finally, if Japan and China by companies anxious to ensure that they do not miss the boat.
accept South Korea as an equal partner and develop a three-
country union, South Korea will perform a kind of balancing We should remember, too, that the development of the Chinese
or coordinating role, promoting a more international vision in market is actually causing some problems for the Japanese econ-
South Korea itself and at the same time helping to avoid fric-omy in such areas as intellectual property rights. Nor can we
ignore the fact that China’s economic development has disturbed tion between Japan and China.
the balance of global supply and demand in natural resources
and is making it more difficult for Japan to secure these resourc- For these reasons, I believe that the strategic significance of the
es. It is unwise to overlook the fact that the term “economically trilateral community concept is a more important consideration
hot” embodies China’s current political desire for its economic than its economic or cultural facets.
relations with Japan to remain “hot.”
2 3M A S S A C H U S E T T S I N S T I T U T E O F T E C H N O L O G Y
March 2006
M I T C E N T E R F O R I N T E R N A T I O N A L S T U D I E S
of the Conventional Wisdom
Japan-China Relations: Four Fallacies
Masquerading as Common Sense
Kazuo Ogoura
Japan Foundation
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